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Making the Grade: Vlad Barin on Contrast, Consistency and Good Taste

Post Production
London, UK
Cheat colourist on intense years at NFTS, the inspiration of nature and learning not to stress out about everything

Vlad Barin has a varied portfolio, with everything from commercials, documentaries and award-winning short films, to features, animations and music videos. Whatever the format, he brings bold ideas and technical mastery to everything he touches… and a sharp wit to boot! Informed by the timeless landscapes of Romania where he grew up, to the prestigious National Film and Television School where he studied, Vlad loves tangible textures and rich colours, which is why he is a huge advocate of shooting on film.

Films Vlad has graded annually make official selections at prominent global festivals, including Grierson, BAFTA, SXSW, BFI London Film Festival, Open City Docs, Camerimage, and more.

He’s worked with brands including Vogue, Dior, BBC, Nike, BMW and Just Eat, artists Bring Me The Horizon and Arlo Parks, and with directors such as Akinola Davies Jr, Taichi Kimura, Coyle Larner Bros, Chris Thomas, Beatrix Blaise and Ellen Evans.

LBB> What was your first experience with the world of colour grading – and when did you decide that being a colourist was a role that you wanted to pursue?

Vlad> I think it was in the years after graduating from university that Ross Boliday, a friend and documentary director, mentioned he met someone who edits images like I was doing on stills, but for film. Funny enough he was talking about Toby Tomkins, but we didn’t cross paths until much later.

After this, I started looking into colour grading. This is probably one of the first videos I graded (if working on free-licence Resolve on MacBook Retina can be called grading!) As you can see, I was quite good at matching from day one, haha.

I was in a weird place career-wise and wasn’t too set on doing one particular thing yet. At the time, I was working in a big fashion photography studio doing different bits there. My parents kept pushing me to do a Masters. Ross had just started going to NFTS and he mentioned they had a grading course there. I looked into it and decided to apply, got in, and during the first year I was pretty set on sticking to colour grading - as the NFTS course also took me through some of the CG and comp fundamentals.

LBB> What was the project that you felt really changed your career?

Vlad> Firstly all the wonderful people and friends I met during the two years at NFTS had a massive effect on my career, as I was in demand as soon as I graduated. The DoPs, directors, editors, producers, you know who you are, thank you!

I would have to say ‘Land of Steel’, directed by Chris Thomas, as it was quite an early film in my career and I think it certainly put me on the map. Chris is also a very loyal collaborator and it’s always a pleasure to work with him.

Recently I worked on a feature documentary called ‘So Foul a Sky’ with director Álvaro F. Pulpeiro which has done the rounds at festivals in the past year. Alvaro became a very good friend and I feel like he will change my career (if he hasn’t already!) as he definitely inspires greatness.

LBB> How/where did you hone your craft, and did you have any particular mentors?

Vlad> I developed my skills during two very intense years at NFTS, where I worked on a few hundred projects during the time I was there. But as I was coming from an image editing background I think my eye had a bit of training, and I spent a lot of time learning the software and panels.

I didn’t really have a mentor while there or after, but obviously I looked up to Toby and the other senior colourists after I joined Cheat.

LBB> Tell us more about your creative process…

Vlad> I usually look at the references I get and try to relate them to what I see in the footage. I like to have some time to play a little with the footage beforehand so I get an idea of what’s there and that way I can manage the client’s expectations from the start. I normally present a couple of options at the start, usually a cleaner version and a more ‘filmic’ one. After deciding between those I finesse the contrast and work towards the final look. I like to do a first pass in the first hour or two (depending on length) and then play it back and do a couple more passes. I’ve learned that spending too much time on one shot can create many problems and can be very time-consuming. I feel like when you start grading you can easily fall into that trap and it can take a long time to get out of that habit.

LBB> From experience, we’ve found that colourists often love art and photography - when you’re out of the studio, what inspires you?

Vlad> Growing up in a small city in the mountains of Romania I always feel that nature inspires me a lot. I love looking at clouds, but also trees.

I’ve dipped in and out of photography over the years, but in the past year I started hand printing film. I have my own darkroom and I spend quite a lot of time there when there’s downtime. I am slowly trying to build enough prints to do a book, and I certainly fell in love with the printing process, although it does mean I am spending more time in a different dark room.

LBB> Colour grading is largely a digital affair, but there’s also been a resurgence of film over the past few years in commercials and music videos. What are your thoughts about working on film versus digital formats like 4K? And what are your favourite techniques for capturing a vintage or tactile feel?

Vlad> That’s a tough question. Going back to printing film in the darkroom, I feel like that is the only way we should process stills. It just feels so natural to print the film onto paper, which does the negative conversion in an organic way through chemicals and light-sensitive materials. Does that mean we should only do a photo-chemical process on moving images too like PTA does? Maybe we should…

The tip from me for giving an image a filmic look is in the sharpness of the image, you want to cut a lot of high frequency detail and increase the perceived sharpness by adding grain. Sprinkle your favourite print LUT (in moderate amounts) and you got yourself a pretty tasty image. 

LBB> When working in commercials, what role can colour and a grade play in enhancing a brand’s assets and what sort of conversations do you have with creatives and clients about that (e.g. is there often a strategic/consistent ‘look’ for a brand? Can these be too heavy handed?)

Vlad> I have thought about this before and I think that grading commercials is a more technical role somehow. I wouldn’t say there’s a specific look necessarily but it’s certainly more prescriptive in terms of direction. It’s easy to say “we’ll fix it in the grade” but there’s a limit to what we can do, and when clients' expectations are managed properly the session goes smoothly.

LBB> How do you ensure that each colourist-director partnership is a success?

Vlad> I try to keep in touch with directors as much as I can, but it’s not easy. I am quite laid back and not the pushy type so it’s not really in my nature to chase people and ask them why I haven’t seen them since they started doing bigger jobs haha. I prefer partnerships based on appreciation, respect, and nice whiskey.


LBB> What advice would you give to a budding colourist?

Vlad> Don’t stress out about anything, we work in a great industry where things get sorted some way or another so always keep it fun! If you lose a client, you’ve now got more time to find two others.

LBB> In your opinion, what’s the difference between a good grade and a great grade?

Vlad> Contrast, consistency and good taste.


LBB> How is the craft and trade of colour grading changing?

Vlad> It's changing like all other creative industries to be honest - more accessible equipment, more information/tutorials online, more people doing it. It’s really opened up the field and possibilities for everyone, which can only be a good thing for creativity. 

Work from CHEAT
Concrete Plans
Film Agency Wales
Epic Journey